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Cybergolf Writers Reflect on the Year That Was

By: Tony Dear


The year 2012 was another unforgettable season in golf. In fact, you can probably add it to the pile of nominations for "Best Golf Year Ever."

Not many brand-spanking new golf courses opened in 2012, but those that did - Streamsong, Cabot Links, Bandon Preserve and Donald Trump's magnificent links in Scotland - tended to be world-class. The majors were as gripping as ever, won by inconceivable shots (Masters), a resolute never-say-die attitude (U.S. Open, Open Championship), and youthful brilliance (PGA Championship).

Part-way through the second round, a 17-year-old led the U.S. Open, for which a 14-year-old had also qualified. Another 14-year-old won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship earning himself a trip to the Masters, and a 15-year-old girl won the Canadian Women's Open.

Kyle Stanley took a seven-shot lead into the back nine of the Farmers Insurance Open, virtually assured of claiming his maiden PGA Tour victory. But he made a triple-bogey on the 72nd hole to drop into a playoff . . . which he lost. Stanley then won the following week.

Tiger Woods did make something of a comeback, winning three big tournaments, but failed to add to his 14 majors and went down ignominiously to Phil Mickelson at the AT&T at Pebble Beach where his long-time rival beat him by 11 strokes in the final round. Charlie Beljan won his first PGA Tour event - the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic - despite suffering severe anxiety and being certain he was going to die on the back nine of his second round.

In 2013, a South African rookie, Branden Grace, won four times on the European Tour, and his fellow countryman Charl Schwartzel won two late-season events by a combined total of 23 shots. An American - Stacy Lewis - won the LPGA's Player of the Year award for the first time since 1994; a 26-year-old Aussie pro shot a 16-under 55 at a course in Oklahoma; a 53-year-old Aussie pro won the Australian Open.

The R&A began making some controversial changes to the Old Course ahead of the 2015 Open Championship; the USGA and R&A proposed a ban on anchoring the putter; Rory McIlroy established an impressive 4.6-point lead at the top of the world rankings by year's end; and the Europeans pulled off an unthinkable comeback on the final day of the Ryder Cup in Chicago, winning eight and a half points in the 12 singles matches to capture their fifth victory this century. In an effort to stop the rot, the PGA of America raised a few eyebrows by announcing Tom Watson as the next U.S. captain.

It was a momentous decision to close a remarkable year. Here, nine Cybergolf writers look back on their 2012. To read some of their stories, visit our Writer's Corner section.

Blaine Newnham

What was the best course you played in 2012? Gozzer Ranch (Idaho) - too beautiful and too good to be imagined.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Wine Valley (WA) - just the best sustainable design.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Ian Poulter pumping life into the Ryder Cup.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Playing the par-3 Preserve at Bandon Dunes two months before it opened.

Shot of the Year What else - Bubba Watson's shot in the playoff at the Masters.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Kevin Na trying to initiate a swing when he couldn't.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? The return to Merion for the U.S. Open, and old-fashioned golf.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Stick by the decision to ban anchoring of the putting stroke.

Jay Flemma

What was the best course you played in 2012? Chambers Bay, but the best new course to open this year was Cabot Links.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Pasatiempo, California Golf Club of San Francisco, Wine Valley, Winged Foot (West) and Gil Hanse's superb restoration of Rockaway Hunting Club in Lawrence, N.Y. It's unbelievable the job he did on the Devereux Emmet-designed holes in particular. Okay, I know, that's five.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Resurrection of Crestwood Golf Club in Marcy, N.Y., and the great work the Nacewicz family did restoring the course, attracting over 175 new members in just one year. I picked Steve Nacewicz as my PGA head professional of the year for the job he has done there.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Hurricane Sandy. Those of us in New York are going to live with that nightmare every day for many more months.

Shot of the Year Is there any other shot? Bubba's screaming hook to win the Masters.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? Reducing golf holes to rubble beneath the might of my Adams Speedline Tech driver and Rocketballz 3-wood, laser-beam wedges and magical putting. Jones, Hanse, Dye and Engh - I will crumble your castles into dust!

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Bifurcation of equipment. It would solve the technology imbroglio in one pass.

Jeff Shelley

What was the best course you played in 2012? Sand Point Country Club in Seattle. I didn't travel much this year so I'm going to toss a bouquet to the course where I've been a member for 20 years.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. White Horse (Wash.), where I last saw my friend John Harbottle; 105-year-old Hayden Lake in Idaho's Panhandle - to my knowledge, the only golf course ever designed by the Olmstead brothers of Central Park fame; and John Fought's total revamp of Black Butte's Glaze Meadow in Central Oregon - I didn't recognize the place.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? I have two: 15-year-old amateur Lydia Ko shocking the golf world by winning the Canadian Women's Open and Charlie Beljan's amazing performance despite debilitating panic attacks and winning the Disney.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? The birth in April of my second grandson, Henry Jeffrey Nelson, and being named board president of the First Green Foundation, a wonderful nonprofit that provides hands-on education for school children about the environmental benefits of golf courses.

Shot of the Year No question, Bubba's mind-blowing wedge out of the woods to win the Masters.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? The dilly-dallying by the USGA and R&A over the issue of anchoring the putter. If you're going to ban it, ban it.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? All tours implementing meaningful steps (read: penalty strokes) to speed up the game. Hackers everywhere watch their heroes on TV take ad nauseum to play a shot. Guess where else you see that annoying habit - quite often, right in front of you during a round.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Rein in the high-tech golf ball and equipment only on the PGA Tour. Let's return to shot-making values, not sheer distance and the bomb-and-gouge style that's making grand old courses obsolete.

David Droschak

What was the best course you played in 2012? Scotch Hall Preserve in Windsor, N.C. - a unique Arnold Palmer layout in a remote location along the Albemarle Sound. Great views, great challenge.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Pinehurst No. 2. The 1940s' throwback look Crenshaw/Coore gave it is cool. Old North State Club in New London, N.C. - great Tom Fazio layout with a nice variety of holes that has been my No. 1-ranked course in North Carolina for more than a decade.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Webb Simpson winning the U.S. Open. Covering Webb as a Raleigh high school player and at Wake Forest made the event gripping for me.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Watching my fiancée get a legitimate par on a hole. Now that's progress.

Shot of the Year Bubba out of the trash at the Masters. If Jack, Arnie or Tiger pulled off that shot it would be replayed for all eternity. One of the top-five clutch golf shots of all time.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Former LPGA player Colleen Walker losing her battle with lung cancer.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? One more year closer to the 2014 U.S. Open doubleheader at Pinehurst.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Change the rules for players returning to amateur status. In my mind, once a pro always a pro. Golf is the only sport in which you can return as an amateur.

Joel Zuckerman

What was the best course you played in 2012? Cypress Point, although the torrential deluge and 40-mph headwinds made me wonder what I could have possibly done to tick off the Golf Gods so completely.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. San Francisco Golf Club, which is well-known for being little-known, and Diamond Creek in Banner Elk, N.C., which is incognito in the extreme. An invitation to either should supersede all other plans, up to and including your own daughter's wedding.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Ernie Els winning the Open Championship.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Walking 100 holes in a one-day marathon for charity. Raised money for a worthy cause, and completed a challenge that few would endeavor, particularly in 100-plus-degree heat, as was the case in late June in S.C.

Shot of the Year Bubba Watson of course, Masters playoff. Is there any other answer?

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Adam Scott bogeying the final four holes to lose the Open Championship. Myself - contracting West Nile Virus, which knocked me out for more than two weeks and cost me the chance to play The Country Club in Brookline, Myopia Hunt Club and a few other significant courses in the Boston area.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? The U.S. Open returning to Merion for the first time in more than 30 years, and the publication of my seventh book, on a unique golf-related subject that has never before been written about in a comprehensive manner.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? I have always thought the stroke-and-distance penalty is too punitive, and adds needless length to a round of golf. A ball presumed lost or OB should be played at the point where it disappeared, or went out-of-bounds, like hitting into a lateral hazard, with a single-stroke penalty. Hitting three from the tee is overkill and discouraging. And the last thing golf needs now is to discourage people from playing.

Steve Habel

What was the best course you played in 2012? Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland - maybe those Old World architects (Harry Colt) knew a little about how to design a course.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Royal Isabela in Puerto Rico - challenging golf at its best plus unmatched hospitality and amenities; Memphis Country Club, Memphis, Tenn. - there's not one water hazard on the Donald Ross design but plenty to keep you focused.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? The 30-foot putt by Texas's Dylan Frittelli at Riviera Country Club to clinch the Longhorns' NCAA Men's Division I Golf Championship.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? My morning with Irish golf architect Pat Ruddy and my round at his European Club in Wicklow, Ireland.

Shot of the Year A tie between Bubba Watson's wedge on the 10th hole at Augusta National and Tiger Woods' tender flop shot at the Memorial.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? The Americans' defeat at Medinah. The U.S. golf industry needs some momentum that a victory could have provided.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? As always, playing more golf courses and traveling to places I have never seen before.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? I hope the golf powers will stick to their guns on their decision to ban anchoring the putter.

Tony Dear

What was the best course you played in 2012? Trump International Golf Links Scotland - didn't want to like it quite as much as I did.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Nairn (Scotland) - had wanted to play it for 20 years and it didn't disappoint. Glaze Meadow at Black Butte Ranch (Oregon) - masterful John Fought redesign.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Martin Kaymer holing the putt to win the Ryder Cup - I'm European so what else could it be?

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Toss-up between playing Bandon Preserve and interviewing Bubba Watson.

Shot of the Year Anyone who says anything other than Bubba's shot in the Masters playoff is having a laugh, but I also really enjoyed Ernie's chip between the bunkers on the 16th hole in the final round of the Open Championship.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Untimely death of John Harbottle.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? The Open Championship as always, but also the U.S. Open returning to Merion.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Bifurcate the rules on equipment. It won't be universally popular of course, and in an ideal world we wouldn't need to. But it's surely time to try it at least.

Rob Duca

What was the best course you played in 2012? Tierra del Sol Country Resort, Spa and Country Club in Aruba, which combines a seaside Scottish links with the Arizona desert.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. The Champion course at PGA National, where I've still yet to conquer the "Bear Trap," and Hyannisport Club on Cape Cod, which remains a historical treasure.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? Ernie Els winning the Open, and then displaying uncommon empathy to his good friend, Adam Scott.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Spending time with hockey legend Bobby Orr, one of the idols of my youth, while writing a story (for Cybergolf) on him purchasing The Ridge Club on Cape Cod.

Shot of the Year Bubba Watson out of the woods at the Masters.

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? Adam Scott's collapse. He's a nice guy who deserved better.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? The U.S. Open returning to Merion.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? If they're going to ban the long putter, do it now, not later.

Nancy Berkley

What was the best course you played in 2012? Adams's Rib Ranch, Eagle, Co., designed by Tom Weiskopf.

Name one or two other courses you really enjoyed. Martis Camp in Lake Tahoe, Calif., designed by Tom Fazio, and CordeValle in San Martin, Calif.

What was your favorite moment of the year (non-personal)? I think that Augusta National's decision to admit women is important as a tipping point and will have a positive effect on the increasing participation of women and girls in the game.

What was your favorite moment of the year (personal)? Taking my two young grandsons to the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and having them interviewed by local TV station. They were so cute and so interested in partaking in the scene. And then having one of Tiger Woods' team members spot my grandsons and hand the older one a practice ball of Tiger's from the putting green. It was a special moment for the three of us that we remember and always talk about.

Shot of the Year My final approach shot on the 18th hole at Martis Camp. It was awesome! Almost tied was my third attempt to carry the hazard on the 11th hole at Adam's Rib. I finally got it right!

What one thing in 2012 do you wish hadn't happened? The shooting in Newtown.

What are you looking forward to most in 2013? A safer world. Good health for my family and all my friends. More women golfers!! Happy that Dottie Pepper has been invited on to the PGA of America Board of Directors, but if the PGA wants to show it really is interested in growing the game for women it must have at least three women on its board. (It now has two: Dottie and Suzy Whaley.) Three women is the magic number on any board to really have a voice and impact.

What decision do you hope the USGA and R&A will make in 2013? Recognition that perhaps there are two sets of rules: One for golf professionals in tournaments and one for the recreational players. The lost-ball rule, for example, is consistently not followed by most recreational golfers.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.